The judicial system provides plaintiffs with the opportunity to seek legal compensation. That opportunity, however, does not last forever. A legal claim must be filed within a limited time period, which is typically set forth in a statute of limitations. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases is typically set at two years.

One of the primary purposes of statutes of limitations is to minimize the deterioration of evidence. Over time, documents can be lost, memories can fade, and witnesses can become unavailable. Statutes of limitations mitigate these occurrences.

Statutes of limitations first appeared in Roman law. They were extensively codified in the 17th century. In the U.S., all fifty states set time limits for filing lawsuits or prosecuting crimes. The statutes vary significantly by jurisdiction and cause of action.

Personal Injury Cases: Discovery Rule Exception

In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases is two years. A lawsuit filed after the two-year window closes will be subject to dismissal.

The applicable limitations period typically begins to run when an injury is inflicted. But what if an individual doesn’t know exactly when the injury occurred? Every day, on average, 4 patients who undergo surgery have surgical items such as sponges, sharps, and instruments left inside of them.

Surgical sponges were the most common retained surgical item (RSI), followed by small items such as screws. Most RSIs were left behind in the abdomen and pelvis. Indications of retention often include pain, swelling and tenderness, which can be symptomatic of other conditions. This makes identifying the correct cause more difficult. RSIs — also known as unintended retained foreign objects or retained foreign bodies— can cause emotional distress and severe physical harm, or even death.

Some patients experience symptoms shortly after the surgery. For others, the symptoms may not surface for months if not years. In one such case, a sponge was discovered in a woman four years after she had abdominal surgery. In circumstances such as this, a statute of limitations could impose additional hardship by precluding her from filing a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Fortunately, like most other states, Pennsylvania provides an exception known as the discovery rule. Under the rule, when the complaining party is reasonably unaware that his or her injury has been caused by another party's conduct, the rule tolls suspend the running of the statute of limitations. However, If the patient was experiencing abdominal pain after the surgery but refused to seek medical treatment for a number of years, her lawsuit may very well be barred by the statute of limitations.

The party seeking to invoke the discovery rule bears the burden of establishing the inability to know of the injury despite the exercise of reasonable diligence. The standard is not a standard unique to a particular plaintiff, but instead, a standard as applied to a "reasonable person."

If you’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence, it is important to act quickly. To speak with an experienced personal injury attorney, call Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn at 800-760-1529.

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